Boyhood and five films that took a long time to make

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, recently released, has been praised by critics for its mimetic, sprawling depiction of a young man’s journey through youth and adolescence. It was shot intermittently over a 12-year period, meaning we see the actors age naturally in line with their characters.

Watching Ethan Hawke’s deadbeat dad mature into a rueful but responsible parent, for instance, is especially touching given the actual timescale involved in shooting the production.

The decision to film over such an extended period is an interesting way to attempt a ‘realistic’ depiction of growing up. But it also represented a leap of faith on Linklater’s part – what if one of the stars had quit, or main character Ellar Coltrane turned out to be a terrible actor when he reached adulthood?

According to many reviewers (and me!), the gamble paid off for Boyhood. Here are five more films that took a ridiculously long time to make.


David Lynch’s Eraserhead (despite only being 90 minutes long, and having a script of roughly 30 pages) took about five years to finish. It started off as a student project, but the notoriously perfectionist director spent a long time mucking around in post-production. The soundtrack alone took roughly a year to cobble together!

The Up series

Michael Apted, a British director, is best-known for an ambitious documentary project with interesting similarities to Boyhood.

The Up Series started in 1964 and has continued until the present day. Apted selected 14 participants, filming material from their lives from the age of seven onwards to show how their background and childhood shaped their transition into maturity.

So far, eight episodes have been broadcast, with the most recent being shown in 2012. The people taking part are now in their 50s!

Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam film was a famously difficult and complex production, best by logistical difficulties, bad luck and raging Hollywood egos. It took two years in the editing room to turn the jumble of footage into a coherent film.

Hearts of Darkness, narrated by Eleanor Coppola, uses behind-the-scenes shots to reveal some of the tensions and difficulties involved in the making of Apocalypse Now.

Harry Potter series

More through necessity than because of any overarching artistic vision, the Harry Potter series saw its cast go through a similar ageing process to that seen in Boyhood.

Production took place over the course of a decade, from 2000 to 2010, meaning stars like Daniel Radcliffe went from adorable moppet to surly teenager on the silver screen as well as in real life.


Submarine-botherer and director James Cameron wrote the script for Avatar in 1994 but had to wait for over a decade to begin filming, largely because the technology to realise his vision wasn’t available at the time. Not enough blue paint, perhaps.

The film premiered in 2009 and became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, so it was probably worth the wait, at least for the financiers involved.

Have you got any other films to add to this? Just comment below.

Fearghus Roulston

Fearghus was tempted into training as a journalist after an injudicious exposure to the Tintin books at an early age. He worked in several content marketing and writing jobs before starting at Clowdy, where he deals with blogging, social media and other non-Tintin or international espionage-related activities.